Courtney S. Barr

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Join me, the Princess, on my Royal Adventures in the Land of Writing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

That extra character we all deal with when writing...

I received an email yesterday containing the exciting message of a friend on the precipice of reaching the first stage of her writing dream. She is excited, shocked, tired & questioning whether or not this is a good thing or a terrifying thing. The following quote came screeching from my memory and I smiled before typing a response....

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath

It is self-doubt that we writers encounter every day. Even on those high moments of scene or character development. We worry that our concept won't be cutting edge enough for the masses, we hope that our technique won't get butchered by the literary classicists, we debate point of view, we argue with imaginary characters, we hit delete & backspace sometimes more than a hundred times after only typing two words. We question ourselves over everything in the process, too soon to query, synopsis is too long, the draft too short, the characters are not complex enough...will it be accepted by anyone? Self-doubt can eat us alive.

Sadly it is not like chicken pox and only comes once or twice in life; it stays with us. It waits in the wings for that first rejection and then leaps out screaming "I told you so."

I battle self-doubt every day. Each time I sit down to type or sketch out a story on a piece of paper I feel it. The thoughts of wasting my time or this won't be good slither across my skin. For creative people it rears its head with every idea. My friend is amazing, her concept is new & fun, her personality will make her shine amongst her fans, yet I still saw the doubt in her message. I hope that I replied with the kind of support she needed and if not I at least know that we live in a technologically advanced era that gives us the ability to find it.

A quick click through literary articles on being published & you will see the mounting difficulties that we can face, but then, then all you have to do is peruse my blogroll or look up your favorite authors website. It is then that we realize self-doubt is a pretty promiscuous little disease. It runs rampant through us all, not even caring to stay clear of some of those great writers of today & yesterday. It slips into the agents hand when they take a chance on something new, it fills the CEO's mind when the publishing company decides to print the controversial new book, and the book seller who decides to promote it. But no matter how they progress the disease begins with the writer even before the words hit the page. It is a battle that rages every second of our creative life. But you must realize its promiscuity is what makes it something that can only hang around during a battle, not a war.

Sylvia was right. Self-doubt is the worst enemy that we encounter when being creative. It is in the words leading up to this that I think I understand how she may have dealt with it. "the imagination to improvise" I like to believe that in those four words she is telling me how handle self-doubt. You see, self-doubt, forgets that we are the creative ones. We are the ones that throw the character from the rooftop tumbling to his death; we are the ones that change a rose into a soft, velvet, cluster of crimson petals lying against the hard, wet pavement; we are the ones who bring the lover back to life as her mate chooses to die in her place; we are the ones that find glory in the single word and contentment in a sigh. Self-doubt is something we add to a character as they discover their destiny & it is something they cast aside when the final page is turned. It is a tool, one that occasionally oversteps its bounds. In a sense it is the extra character in every story. The unruly one that you want to smack around...and you can. Take that self-doubt and make it that character, take it off of you and use the emotions that it had you rolling in. Apply them to the hero so that he/she can discover their inner strength, give it to the villain so that they can question their motives, or simply let it watch as you create a world that is uniquely your own. One truth we cannot avoid is self-doubt is going to visit; its going to have a small battle with your will & your creative juices.

But thanks to Sylvia I will always remember that it is my imagination that it is infiltrating & it is only important if I let it be. I can let it on the battlefield, study its techniques... but that is where it ends, the war is mine to win.


  1. So very true!! How do you always have the right words to say? :-)

  2. It's so true that self-doubt can be our worst enemy. Someone declared that for the next 40 days, she's going without self-doubt. And that's a bandwagon I can jump on!

  3. Self doubt tends to appear in the editing process for me. When I'm writing, I'm too busy to worry about it. It's later that I think my stuff sucks.

    Lovely post, good lady. Really very well written. Thanks!

  4. Self-doubt is a killer. I'm like Simon - it usually hits me later. But it always hits eventually. That's why I have all of you! :-)

  5. I'm a huge self-doubter. I've questioned my own judgement my entire life. The great thing about writing is just doing the best you can at what you love and evolving as you learn to do it better. The entire work belongs to you, and if no one else catches your vision, the story is still there. Waiting for you to change and grow with it. Thanks for the deep post. My frontal lobe hurts, but it's a good pain. :)

  6. Frankie - yes I freaked out when I saw my name on Maggie's blog. As for today's entry...I appreciate the compliment. ;o) I love to see your smiling face pop by!

    Elana - 40 days? WOW that is a great idea for Lent...I am with you - if I could go along for that ride it would be awesome!

    Simon - revision is the one place that I handle self doubt the best. It is climbing up the mountain where I tend to teeter along the edge. your stuff suck? NEVER. Thank you for the kind words.

    Shannon - you can definitely count on all of us. You are amazing & self doubt should definitely just be applied to characters rather than your talent!

    Roxy - you are so right! Writing is one of those blessed techniques that is ever evolving for the writer. We can really turn a self doubt moment into success. Sorry for the pain... ;o) Thank you for stopping by!

  7. I LOVE being lucky enough to have you as a friend. I have been thinking of launching something this week but doubt and fear have kept me from doing it. I finally decided I would get it done but hear it is Tuesday and I haven't moved on it yet. You always seem to have the best words and "pep talks" in store whether in person, phone or blog. Thanks for reminding me that I can have the control over this ever constant player in my life.

  8. Good ol' Sylvia. Great quote. Yes, we all have our self-doubt days, just gotta push through them and be thankful for our encouraging good friends.

  9. Yes, I'm back. I have recovered from thinking. I just wanted to ask you about beta readers. Could you come over to my blog sometime and tell me what they are? I know very little about blogging.

  10. Aw, Courtney, this is SUCH a beautiful post. I feel so bad that I missed it up until now.

    Elegantly written. Very insightful. Well done girl. Really. (And just what I needed)


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